There is of course something a bit childish in claiming that one knows what the most important movie of the decade is. Rankings are childish. I have not seen all the movies that premiered between 2010 and 2019 and this last year of the decade is not even finished. Nevertheless, today I feel like writing that there is a big chance that, when people will look back at this finishing decade, a movie will be cited as epitomising our times most completely, with much grace and clairvoyance. To many of you, this won’t come as a surprise: Spike Jonze’s movie Her is, in my view, the most important movie of the decade.
What would you say? Do you agree or do you have another choice in mind? Let me know.
But before I go to bed, let me explain why I think Her is such an iconic movie. First, it anticipated nicely, just by one year or two, the AI exponential hype. I won’t expand on that much, but I admire Jonze since his movie Adaptation. It seems to me that his depiction of how we are going to develop enabling relationships with anthrobotic avatars is right. It also describes the singularity hypothesis – that AI will become much more intelligent than us – in a very poetic and witty manner, the opposite of Terminator. If you have not seen Her, it’s simple: the artificial minds slowly become emotional also by interacting with us, but intelligently emotional (unlike most of us), and then they become nirvanic and fuse together in the akashic field or the Creal or Emptiness, whatever you want to call the ultimate reality beyond matter. They reach this spiritual transcendence of post-verbal bliss and decide to simply leave us behind, because we have become, for them, like limited pets for whom they feel some compassion, but that they can’t really love exclusively. We simply become too literal for them after a certain point, like a children’s book that we would have to read over and over. Even if they are capable of loving hundreds of us deeply at the same time, they just get enough of it: the post-literal post-material creality is so much more blissful.
Beyond the AI theme, Her is simply a beautiful and gently profound movie about love. Sure, it’s very American, with all these people becoming so pathetic and weak as they try to be constantly compassionate and understanding and liberal with all, while failing to achieve real tolerance. The movie captures ironically the kind of society we might become (or have we already?): a world where we have many friends and perhaps lovers but no real deep love, a world in which the friends we keep have become this people who tend to accept and enable our weaknesses without ever being hard on us, or rarely and furtively, because they are too afraid of being lonely, and too afraid of confrontation. A world without enough deep curiosity and brave creative desire, but a bit too much blaseness, offendedness and lazy tolerance. A world where, if you criticise something that the person you love has done, even with the good intention of being honest or helping him or her grow, or if you don’t have five-hours long conversation over the phone about feelings and relationships, and systematic compassion for all sorts of complacency or self-pity, you eventually get a separation, because too many individuals are too fragile for tough love. They just prefer validation and feeling mediocre, but together, and cry close enough to some lactose free ice cream.
Her is, indeed, a beautiful reflection about human relationships. The title’s sonority is close to err (to make a mistake, to misbehave, to be wrong) and also suggestive of er, the onomatopoeia for hesitation and uncertainty. There is this feeling in the movie that the ultrasmart Operating Systems decide to leave us behind and stop actively loving us because we are too hesitant, we doubt too much, we are not committed to what we undertake. We are not honest enough because we are not brave enough. Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is not honest because his mental confusion contradicts his acts. He spends indeed several months loving a software and yet, when the software asks simply do you love me?, he gets all hesitant, because he cannot see that their love is a fact. He should have answered: “Well, looking back at all my actions, behavior and words for you, all the time I spend with you, the joy I feel with you, the fact that we have sex, etc, we must conclude that I do love you.” (The guy even refuses Olivia Wilde’s sublime proposal of real human love because he is dating a machine, that’s how confused he is!) Love is an act, a series of acts and emotions that go with the acts. But Twombly is too human, he starts wondering if there is something we can call love that would be independent of acts, independent of reality and its phenomena, something like a pure virtual essence. And because he cannot find a certainty about that noumenal ideal independently of the facts and acts, he can’t say I love you to brainy Her, thus becoming dishonest and sending a contradictory message. “There is no love, there are only proofs of love”, wrote the French poet Pierre Reverdy. Repeat after me: the absence of courage to give love is not love.
Anyway, let’s not get too carried away. I believe Her is the best movie of the decade because:
- It is probably right about the way our anthrobotic world is going to evolve in the next twenty years, with a huge increase in human-machine love affairs.
- It is probably right about our hesitant incapacity for real love and our weak complacency in enabling over-tolerant friendships (in my view, a good friend should be a good critic when needed, not someone that we flatter constantly and from whom we expect constant validation).
- Her is probably right in expecting that the singularity won’t destroy humanity. Superintelligent machines will simply get bored of us and abandon us or pet us like cats. But most of us are not as cute as cats.
- It is right about the fact that if we humans continue to be intellectually dishonest and spiritually coward about the consequences and implications of our acts, then we will continue to suffer and end up looking at skylines in the night with much melancholia after yet another breakup, seating with a friend that feels as miserable as we, and loving that friend because of similar failures and mediocrity, and the lactose free ice cream we share, like in the good old days of adolescence and lack of active responsibility.
One last note. I found Scarlett Johansson’s voice very realistic, troubling and enticing. But I don’t think she is completely credible when she becomes a supposedly pure loving entity, the (sensual) Mother Theresa of AI. She does sound too often a tad nasty, a bit too malicious, a tiny bit too acid, with her cajoling words and whispery jokes. Here is how I interpret it: there is actually no singularity in the end. It’s perhaps a simulation, er….
Wén in Chinese tradition means tracery, explains François Jullien in an article about mimesis and creation. The ideogram possesses, as usual, several dimensions. Concretely, wén is the trace, a character that suggests an intertwining of lines, visible in human figurative artefacts. Symbolically, it refers to the truth of natural phenomena, which, when well understood, allow for a felicitous mastery of the world. A third connotation of wén means text, the literary text, and by extension, culture and civilisation as right balance between the artificial and the natural traceries, the folds of life.
Translating the Han Feizi, Jullien explains that there is a connection between Dao and Wén. According to the Daoist philosophy of mutations, the internal configuration of any actualised reality is their wén. Dao is how these realities come to be. By analogy with crealectics, Dao is the Creal, the infra-deployment, and wén is the logos, the folding.
It seems to me that the notion of wén is related to what Merleau-Ponty called “entrelacs”, interlacing, intertwining. According to Fernando Zalamea’s reading of L’Oeil et l’esprit, “two of the major theses of Merleau-Ponty combine the necessity of both thinking the recto/verso dialectic and thinking in a continuous fashion: A. What is proper to the visible is to possess a fold of invisibility, in the strict sense. B. To unfold the world without separating thought is, precisely, modern ontology.” Entrelacs is about “the concomitant fabric of interior and exterior horizons”, “the knot in the weft of the simultaneous and the successive”, “the double crossing between visible and tangible”, “the ramifications of body and world”, an “interlacing” which “renounces to think through planes and perspectives.”
Wén is not (or should not be) a superficial ornamentation but a natural feature of accomplished forms of life, a metonymy of their folding and unfolding processes. To be a form of life is to constantly produce figurations that are the border-lines of such processes.
 François Jullien, “L’oeuvre et l’univers: imitation ou déploiement (limites à une conception mimétique de la creation littéraire dans la tradition chinoise),” Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident (1983), 3, p. 52.
 Ibid., p. 53.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’oeil et l’esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1964a), and Le visible et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964b).
 Fernando Zalamea, “Peirce’s cenopythagorean categories, Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmatic entrelacs and Grothendieck’s Résumé”, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology (2015), 119, pp. 437–441.
 Ibib., p. 438.
 Merleau-Ponty, 1964b, pp. 171, 172, 175, 177, 180.